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Editorial Team
07 Feb 2019

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The Case Against 55 Hour Workweek

Breaking the Personal-professional Singularity 

Our basic urge whenever our phone announces its presence, by beeping, is to check the phone. So much so that we are checking professional emails at home and personal emails in the office. Work days, these days, have no clear beginning and no clear end.  

Whenever you hear a ‘ping’ or whenever your phone lights up, your overactive neurotransmitter dopamine knows no gravity and triggers a stimulus activating the brain’s threat detection/reward system.

The fault is, our brain is still archaic in a hi-tech world. Larissa K. Barber, Psychology Professor, Northern Illinois University calls this addiction to respond to notifications ‘Telepressure’. The author of The Organized MindsDaniel Leviton calls this urge the ‘Novelty Bias’.  

What we need in times of this personal and professional singularity, primarily, is a human rights accord to make work-life balance possible, which, now more than any time in the history of corporate existence, is extremely crucial. The right to disconnect vouches for all the preexisting human rights and draws similarities to Article 24 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several other studies of the International Labor Organization

The Right to Disconnect: What it Entails 

New York, the first city to ban salary history, is on the cusp of making another history with the right to disconnect. It has been recently introduced with the title “Private employees disconnecting from electronic communications during non-work hours”, according to which, if companies with more than 10 employees force the latter to check emails after work, the former is liable to be fined $500. 

If employees check such emails owing to their own interest, liability doesn’t lie with anyone, but it’s the organization’s responsibility to let the employees know that they aren’t supposed to do so. Only exceptions to this rule are emergencies and overtime which come with payments. Any other violation would call stringent fines which only get steeper with every further breach. 

Overworked employees can claim $250 as financial relief for being made to work after office hours and if an overbearing employer retaliates with punishment, the employee gets $500. If the employee is fired, s/he gets $2500 along with full compensation for lost wages and benefits.       

The right to disconnect (Le Droit de la déconnexion) is a brainchild of France, the country where it was introduced for the first time last year. Many European countries are slated to follow suit. Let’s have a look at other countries as to whether this right illuminates the legislation and statutory promulgations.       

Germany doesn’t have actual legislation per se to curtail work after office hours but companies like Volkswagen, Bayer, Henkel, Allianz, and Daimler have their own policies modeled and cut to the same effect. Italian rule of land Senate Act no 2233-B governs stipulations for work outside the precincts of the workplace. In the Philippines, House Bill 4721 safeguards that non-response and disregard of electronic communication post-work-hours don’t account for misconduct.            

Why This Cry?

Post-work-hours email response takes, on an average, 5.3 hours every week, according to Carleton University. We already know, employees around the world are chiming in 49 work-hours per week. 

The circadian rhythm of the human body is responsible for the release of hormones, which is dependent on light exposure. When employees are checking their phone after going home and even before going to bed, the number of photons received by eyes sends the signal to the brain not to release melatonin, the hormone, which tells our brain to feel tired and fall asleep.  

The continuous leveraging of night time to check up on work may offset the glial cells which result in deep exhaustion, anxiety, and stress. This, in turn, results in severe sleep deprivation and lost productivity.   

The incongruity of our times!

We are so accustomed to the way we operate. Our recent need for absence is the flip side of an exaggerated round the clock presence. 365*24*7 have become the cardinal numbers, the fact, which is symptomatic of addictions.  We are living in a world, every one of us, where we as clients and customers expect to be served anytime, anywhere. Cutting-out post-work-hours communication will reduce the hours of availability which might hurt a company’s bottom line. Corporate productivity could go for a toss in an age of unprecedented customer expectations.  

Moreover, when you miss out on work after going home, it results in extra pressure and anxiety, quite paradoxically. How? It gives way to a compelling instinct to catch up on everything which one was not been able to, on the other day in office, creating a vicious cycle in the process.

Unplugging from ‘On-the-Clock’ 

Law or no law, companies these days are realizing as to how the equation:  

Total time = Professional time is one of the last of its kind (and is fundamentally wrong). They aren’t interested in causing death by beeps.  

The real equation, organizations are realizing, consequently, is: 

Total time = Professional time + Personal time 

Productivity seeps slowly itself into the dynamic organizational systems which understand the significance and substance of a well maintained work-life balance. Rewards and recognizance say a lot when you have to positively reinforce a statement about the completion of work well within the office time.  

Employers can organize workshops for employees to orient them towards work-life balance. Let them bask in the knowledge that checking phone throughout office time is a distraction and the less they do it, the more productive they will be, which will eventually help them reduce work after office hours.  

Managers need to assign big projects in smaller tasks and take help from different individuals to not make an individual suffer. Sticky notes and checklists have always been the saviors in the corporate conundrum of managing and organizing work.              

Changing the way, we work mustn’t take more street battles and a hundred more pages of articles, newspaper coverings, and government edicts.

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